Age: January 4, 1992 (26)
Traditional Stats: .272/.374/.460, 28 2B, 3 3B, 13 HR, 52 RBI, 2 SB, 4 CS
Advanced Stats: 1.9 bWAR, 2.3 fWAR, 119 OPS+, 125 wRC+
Third Base Defensive Stats: -2 DRS, -3.2 UZR
Outfield Defensive Stats: -1 DRS, -2.1 UZR
Arbitration Eligible: 2019
Free Agent: 2022
As a smiling Bryant threw across the diamond to Anthony Rizzo, you could never imagine Bryant wearing anything other than a Cubs uniform in his career. After all, he was a former first round draft pick who was the reigning National League MVP, and he was the first Cubs player since Johnny Kling to record an assist on the final out of a World Series clincher.
However, that was 2016. In 2018, the Cubs are in a bit of financial trouble, and they need to find ways to improve the club without adding to payroll. This first part of the process was trading Drew Smyly and his $7 million salary to the Texas Rangers to permit them to pick up Cole Hamels‘ $20 million option. It does not seem like the Cubs are done dealing.
In a report from Buster Olney of ESPN, the Chicago Cubs are open to dealing Bryant. When asked about it Theo Epstein offered, “We’ve never operated with untouchables. It sends the wrong message. Given what we’re trying to accomplish, it would be virtually impossible to envision the deal that would make sense to move them. I just don’t believe in untouchables. Why limit yourself?”
While you could dismiss this as merely posturing, it is important to remember Epstein was the General Manager who traded Nomar Garciaparra to get the pieces he thought would help the Red Sox win the World Series.
With respect to Bryant, there are some other issues present. When the Cubs kept him in the minors to begin the 2015 season to manipulate his service time, he filed a grievance which went nowhere. Reportedly, the Cubs efforts to sign him to a contract extension have been rebuffed by him and his agent, Scott Boras.
Compounding everything is Bryant having an injury plagued 2018 season. Shoulder inflammation cost Bryant not only sent him to two separate stints on the disabled list, but it also sapped him of his power.
Bryant went from slugging .527 over the first three years of his career to .460. His wRC+ dropped from 144 to 125. His ISO dropped from .240 to .188. Perhaps the most telling, his HR/FB ratio went from 17.0 to 11.2 percent.
Now, if Bryant’s shoulder heals with rest, there is no need for concern. However, it should be noted he did have rest with a 35 day stint on the disabled list. He would return on September 1, and he would hit .259/.354/.412 over the final month of the season.
Seeing those numbers, without his having an offseason surgery to repair an known problem, it is a gamble he will return to form next year. With MLB Trade Rumors projecting Bryant receving $12.4 million in arbitration, it is an expensive gamble.
Why the Mets Should Obtain Him
Heading into the 2015 season, many suggested the Mets and Cubs should come together on a deal because the Mets had the young pitching, and the Cubs had the young hitting. The two never did have a meeting of the minds, and they would instead seek ways to improve without dealing with one another. While it lead to the Mets besting the Cubs in the 2015 NLCS, the Cubs, who arguably built their team much better, would win the World Series the following year.
The Cubs were in that position because Bryant was an MVP caliber player. If that shoulder is healthy again, he will be that again next year, and if he is, he can lead whichever team he plays for to the World Series. That includes the Mets.
If they could manage a trade, Bryant would be the perfect batter to slot between Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto in the lineup. If the Mets do swing this deal, they are on the short list of teams who have the best top of the order in baseball. Simply put, this is an absolute game changer.
Why the Mets Should Not Obtain Him
One of the reasons why the Mets were never able to swing a deal with the Cubs was because the Cubs wanted a lot back in return from the Mets for one of their position players. Shoulder or no shoulder, that is not going to change with Bryant.
With some deals, the Mets are looking at trading top prospects like Peter Alonso and Andres Gimenez. With respect to the Cubs, even with them picking up Hamels’ option, they likely need another starter. They could also use an outfielder and some bullpen help. Also, given Addison Russell‘s domestic violence issues, they may also need a shortstop.
This could mean the Mets would have to part with Nimmo or Amed Rosario or both in conjunction with other MLB talent and prospects. Looking at the crystal ball a bit, a Bryant trade to the Mets would be a megadeal between these two clubs, and these clubs have not had the stomach for it in the past.
When you’re the Mets, its difficult to imagine why you would assume the risk of both trading away your young cost controlled talent while gambling Bryant’s shoulder will heal to the point where he returns to MVP form. It’s also difficult to make another National League contender a stronger club while freeing up some money for them to make other moves to make them a stronger team.
If you can make this deal without parting with your core, which is the young left-handed hitters, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard, you absolutely do this deal. However, the Cubs are not likely walking away with at least one of those pieces. Considering how the Mets operate like a small to mid market team, they cannot assume the risk of Bryant’s shoulder healing. That is just an unfortunate consequence to how the Mets have chosen to conduct their business.